Film Capsule: Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present

The Artist is Present – a stunning new documentary from HBO Films – provides an in-depth perspective on performance artist Marina Abramovic’s critically-acclaimed body of work, culminating with her 10-week installation at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art back in Spring of 2010.

At the time, Abramovic’s installation made headlines due to spiraling demand, the inclusion of several live nude models (some positioned in such a way that visitors needed to brush up against them in order to proceed), and the fact that fans were afforded a rare opportunity to sit one-on-one with Abramovic for several minutes in utter silence.

Like most of her performance pieces, Abramovic is the main attraction here. While conceptual purists may question the inherent wisdom of granting TV cameras full access to the creative process, they’d also be hard-pressed to deny the raw power and magnetism of this film.

In addition to the MoMA installation, Artist also traces Abramovic’s work back to its roots, including early acts of sadomasochism, self-asphyxiation, self-flagellation, and even month-long bouts of fasting … almost all of which occurred while Marina stood stark naked in front of the world, for several minutes – or perhaps even hours – on end.

To wit: Throughout the 10-week run at MoMA, Abramovic sat still and steady (albeit clothed) for seven-and-a-half hours a day, six days a week … staring straight into the eyes of willing participants, almost none of whom she’d previously met.

Before it was all over, the MoMA engagement attracted more than 750,000 visitors, many of whom would spend entire afternoons just milling about the periphery, observing how Abramovic interacted with her subjects.

For those who didn’t have the opportunity to see the MoMA installation, Artist provides a very real sense of how and why Marina Abramovic continues to set the avant-garde world on fire. For those who did have an opportunity to visit MoMA during that time, or perhaps even take a seat across from Abramovic for 10-15 minutes, it’s a compelling look back at one of the most memorable installations in modern art history.

Either way, you should definitely make an effort to see this film.

It’s fascinating, on a variety of levels.

The end.

(Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present opens at Film Forum in New York City for a two-week engagement starting June 13th, with a broadcast debut on HBO on July 2.)